The Artist Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca was born around the year 1415 and became a notable Italian artist of the early Renaissance. While essentially known today for his contribution to the arts, he was also a well known mathematician and geometer. His most famous works are The Baptism of Christ (c.1448-1450) and The Flagellation of Christ (c.1460). He was particularly revered for his frescoes.

Piero was born in Tuscany in the village of Borga Santa Sepolcro. His father was a tradesman, Benedetto de’Franceschi, and his mother, Romana di Perino da Monterchi, hailed from a small branch of Florentine and Tuscan nobility. His early training is uncertain, but scholars believe he may have studied under several artists of Sienna. He did apprentice with Domenico Veneziano of Florence and helped produce the 1439 frescoes for the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital which have been lost to history. Historians also point out that he was in connection with the artist Fra’ Angelico who introduced him to other master painters of the day.

A few years after his return to San Sepolcro in 1442, he was commissioned to paint the altarpiece for the Church of the Misericordia. He would not complete this work until the 1460s, but he also painted the Madonna della Misericordia (1460-1462) for the commission. The twentieth-century writer Aldous Huxley described the painting as the most beautiful in the world. During his career Piero della Francesca also received commissions to paint in Rimini, Bologna, Pesaro, Ancona. Although he briefly returned to San Sepolcro in 1453, he was invited to Rome by Pope Nicholas V to paint frescoes for the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and Vatican Palace, but mere fragments of these works survive today. The artist also worked in Ferrara and Arezzo.

As the artist’s career progressed he became influential for both his paintings and mathematics. His art exhibits his interest in perspective and geometry. Among some of his most famous works are the portraits of Frederico and Battista Sforza which today hang in the Uffizi Museum. He based his double portrait of the pair on Roman coins. Some of his other best-known works include St. Jerome in Penitence (c.1449-1451), The History of the True Cross (c.1455-1466), Nativity (c.1470), Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta Praying in Front of St. Sigismund (1451), The Resurrection (c.1463), Polyptych of Perugia (c.1470), and Madonna and Child with Saints (1472-1474). He died in his home town in 1492 on the very day Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas.